Criterion Does Right by Wong Kar-Wai

As any of you who have read my previous post on Wong Kar-Wai know, I am a huge fan. Which is why I was thrilled when Criterion finally announced a new boxed set of Wong Kar-Wai’s best films.

This seven-film set includes new 4k restorations of CHUNKING EXPRESS, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, AS TEARS GO BY, FALLEN ANGELS, DAYS OF BEING WILD, HAPPY TOGETHER and 2046. Not to mention, a boatload of bonus materials.

Among those supplements are:

*Alternate version of DAYS OF BEING WILD featuring different edits of the film’s prologue and final scenes, on home video for the first time

*HUA YANG DE NIAN HUA, a 2000 short film by Wong

*Extended version of THE HAND, a 2004 short film by Wong

*Episode of the television series MOVING PICTURES from 1996 featuring Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle

*New program in which Wong answers questions submitted, at the invitation of the director, by Jonathan Lethem, Sofia Coppola and others

*Interview and “cinema lesson” with Wong from the 2001 Cannes Film Festival

*Three making-of documentaries

*Interviews from 2002 and 2005 with Doyle

*Excerpts from a 1994 British Film Institute audio

*interview with Cheung on her work in DAYS OF BEING WILD

*Press conference for IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE from the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival

*Deleted scenes, alternate endings, behind-the-scenes footage, a promo reel, music videos, and trailers

Out of all those supplements, I am most intrigued by the alternative edits of DAYS OF BEING WILD. In fact, the whole collection of deleted scenes and alternate endings sounds pretty compelling.

Far more than most filmakers, Wong seems to form his films in the editing stages. The options he discarded may put a very different spin on the films as we know them. Or not. We will have to wait and see what they are, I suppose.

Of course, the main thing is the restored films themselves. They were beautiful to begin with but with 4k restorations and tweaked soundtracks they should be even more stunning.

I’m also really happy Criterion focused on just these seven films. It lets us forget Wong’s several misguided films that he made afterwards (MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS anyone?).

It is far better to live in a land where Wong stopped making films with 2046. A movie not up there with his very best but still interesting enough and visually immersive enough to be well worth watching.

The films included in the collection were visually stunning in a way few other films had been before. The soundtracks were laid back and bouncy. They were just fun to watch.

They also threw out all the conventional rules of pacing. They were films about the moments in between. The very stuff any Hollywood script doctor would have deleted in the name of “keeping the story moving forward.”

They are a bit like the French New Wave. Instead of being lost in moments of Anna Karina doing nothing, it’s Maggie Cheung. Instead of grainy-looking black and white in the streets of Paris, it’s neon color and process-shots in Hong Kong.

Films such as IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and CHUNKING EXPRESS have not only held up, they have become established classics.

It’s only been twenty years since Wong made IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. Yet, the films in the Criterion set are artifacts of a different age. Not only was the world of cinema very different, the world at large was. Hong Kong, in particular, was a very different place back then.

Hong Kong was under British rule from 1841 and not handed over to China until 1997. In addition, that transition of ownership theoretically guaranteed Hong Kong specific rights and freedoms to allow it to maintain a very different character from the rest of China.

It was a place which was both East and West. Part of Chinese tradition and culture but filled with the ghosts of its role as British colony for over a hundred-and-fifty years.

That Hong Kong, the Hong Kong of Wong Kar-Wai, no longer exists. At least, not in the way it once did. Since that time, China has taken increasingly bold steps to integrate Hong Kong more quickly into mainland China.

Political viewpoints aside, it would be hard to argue that the Hong Kong of right now is the same as it was in 1994, when Wong made CHUNKING EXPRESS. That Hong Kong has already faded into history with astonishing speed.

However, the people that love Wong Kar-Wai films don’t love them because they are snapshots of a certain era. They love them because they are mesmerized by the way they look. Enraptured by their playful soundtracks. And most of all, by the way that the often seemingly trivial moments are captured in ways that make them seem almost magical at times.

They are films that powerfully express universal, human emotions; love, longing, loss…The very stuff that makes us feel alive no matter how much it may hurt sometimes.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Criterion boxed set is scheduled to be released March 23, 2021. Some places may also be able to see the restored films projected in a theater. Sadly, Los Angeles, is not one of those places. But at least I have the boxed set to look forward to. I’d also like to mention I don’t work for Criterion or get compensated by them in any way….Not that I would be against such a thing…